Acta Politica

, Volume 54, Issue 1, pp 22–44 | Cite as

How government coalition affects demonstration composition. Comparing twin austerity demonstrations in Belgium

  • Ruud WoutersEmail author
  • Pauline Ketelaars
  • Stefaan Walgrave
  • Nina Eggert
Original Article


Does the composition of a government affect the beliefs, motivations, and mobilization trajectories of protest participants addressing the government? We make use of a straightforward research design to test how the loss of a left-wing ally in power affected the individual-level characteristics of participants in two ‘twin’ demonstrations. Both demonstrations were staged by the same organizers (trade unions) who launched identical campaigns on the same issue (austerities) in the same country (Belgium) forwarding the same demands (fair taxation). The first demonstration was staged in 2011 against a newly formed center-left government. The second demonstration was staged in 2014 against a newly formed center-right government. Relying on protest survey evidence, campaign material and insights of political opportunity structure theory (POS), we mount evidence that the loss of a left-wing ally produced a threat that resulted in (1) bleaker perceptions of participants (effectiveness, personal situation, trust), (2) the activation of informal mobilizing networks, and (3) different motivational dynamics (less instrumental). As such, this study contributes to a better understanding of macro–micro dynamics in contentious politics. Conclusion and discussion center on ways of studying the macro–micro link in protest participation research.


Protest Political opportunity structure Austerity Economic crisis Elite allies 


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ruud Wouters
    • 1
    Email author
  • Pauline Ketelaars
    • 2
  • Stefaan Walgrave
    • 2
  • Nina Eggert
    • 3
  1. 1.Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR)University of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.University of Antwerp, Antwerp (Media, Movement & Politics, M2P)AntwerpBelgium
  3. 3.University of GenevaGenevaSwitzerland

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